How To Prevent A Broken Heart - Diagnosis, Treatment And Prevention Of Heartworm Disease

By Dr. Tracy Appelbaum, Managing Veterinarian

Finally, Spring is right around the corner. That means warmer weather, longer days and unfortunately those pesky mosquitos are back to cause trouble. Not only are they annoying to people but they act as the major transmitters for heartworm disease to our family pets. This disease affects dogs, cats and ferrets but can affect other mammals as well. Currently, heartworm disease is found in all 50 states.

The disease is caused by worms that live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels of infected animals and cause damage to their organs. The dog is the primary host for heartworms and as the worms mature they can mate and produce offspring to then be picked up by mosquitos and transmitted to other animals through a bite. Cats are atypical hosts for heartworm disease and often will have much smaller worm burdens than dogs with few worms ever maturing to the adult stage. However, even with these smaller numbers cats can still have significant respiratory issues resulting from infection and can be harder to diagnose.

Signs of heartworm infection range from nothing at all to cough, fatigue, weight loss, and lack of appetite. As symptoms progress animals can start to show signs of heart failure and can unfortunately die from this disease. Thankfully, your veterinarian can perform a fairly simple blood test right in the hospital to determine whether your family pet is infected or not.

It is far easier to prevent heartworm infection than it is to treat the disease. In fact, treatment for heartworm disease is expensive and not without possible complications. It also requires hospitalization for your pet. Currently, there is no drug approved for treatment of feline heartworm disease and the drug used in dogs is not safe to administer to a cat.

Administration of heartworm prevention is recommended in dogs year-round to not only help prevent heartworm disease but to control other gastrointestinal parasites and increase compliance. Heartworm medication is safe, effective and inexpensive. The pharmacy at Rocky Gorge always has these medications on hand and it is very conveniently sold in multi packs to ensure you never miss a dose for your pet. If you have missed more than 2 months of prevention it is important to have your pet retested prior to administering any more medication.

For more information regarding heartworm disease please visit the website for the American Heartworm Society at

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